Theatre of Blood

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Theatre of Blood
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Douglas Hickox
Produced by Gustave Berne
Sam Jaffe
John Kohn
Stanley Mann
Written by Anthony Greville-Bell (screenplay),
Stanley Mann & John Kohn (idea)
Starring Vincent Price
Diana Rigg
Ian Hendry
Music by Michael J. Lewis
Cinematography Wolfgang Suschitzky
Edited by Malcolm Cooke
Distributed by United Artists (UK & USA, theatrical),
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (video)
Release dates
  • 5 April 1973 (1973-04-05)
Running time
104 min
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Box office $1 million (US/ Canada rentals)[1]

Theatre of Blood (also known as Theater of Blood) is a 1973 horror film starring Vincent Price as vengeful actor Edward Lionheart and Diana Rigg as his daughter Edwina. The cast includes such distinguished actors as Harry Andrews, Coral Browne, Robert Coote, Jack Hawkins, Ian Hendry, Michael Hordern, Arthur Lowe, Joan Hickson, Robert Morley, Milo O'Shea, Diana Dors and Dennis Price. It was directed by Douglas Hickox.


Shakespearean actor Edward Lionheart (Vincent Price) appears to have committed suicide by diving into the Thames, after being humiliated at an awards ceremony. But he has been secretly rescued by vagrants, who welcome him into their circle. Weakened by meths-addiction, they prove to be a docile crew, that he will use in a campaign of revenge on the drama-critics who failed to salute his genius.

Lionheart plans to destroy his critics in a series of poetic killings, based on classic Shakespearean murder-scenes. So one of them is depatched on the Ides of March, like Julius Caesar. Another has his heart cut out, referencing Shylock’s ‘pound of flesh’. Some of the murders are also linked to the seven deadly sins. One critic, noted for envy, is tricked into murdering his wife in a jealous rage, like Othello, before being jailed for life. Another one, noted for drunkenness, is drowned in a cask of wine, like Clarence in Richard III.

Meanwhile Lionheart’s daughter Edwina has been arrested as the chief suspect, and he needs to reveal himself in order to save her. In the final drama, he orders his chief critic Devlin to give him the coveted award in order to spare his life. But he refuses, and Lionheart plans to put out his eyes with red-hot daggers, as with Gloucester in King Lear. His contraption gets stuck, however, just as the police arrive to save Devlin. To thwart them, Lionheart sets fire to the theatre, and in the confusion, one of the vagrants kills Edwina with the award statuette, unwittingly casting her in the role of Cordelia. Lionheart retreats, carrying her body to the roof and delivering Lear's final monologue before the roof caves in, sending him to his death. Devlin comments "You must admit he did know how to make an exit."


Critical reception[edit]

This film was reportedly a personal favourite of Price, as he had always wanted the chance to act in Shakespeare, but found himself being typecast due to his work in horror films.[2] Before or after each death in the film, Lionheart recites passages of Shakespeare, giving Price a chance to deliver choice speeches such as Hamlet's famous third soliloquy ("To be, or not to be, that is the question..."); Mark Antony's self-serving eulogy for Caesar from Julius Caesar ("Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears..."); "Now is the winter of our discontent..." from the beginning of Richard III; and finally, the raving of the mad King Lear at the loss of his faithful daughter.

The film is sometimes considered to be a spoof or homage of The Abominable Dr. Phibes: [3][4] correspondences with the earlier film include a presumed-dead protagonist (who is a professional performer) seeking revenge, nine intended victims (one of whom works directly with Scotland Yard and survives), themed murders rooted in literature, and a young female sidekick. etc.

Today, Theatre of Blood is critically acclaimed, maintaining a 96% "fresh" approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes with the consensus "Deliciously campy and wonderfully funny, Theater of Blood features Vincent Price at his melodramatic best.".

Filming locations[edit]

Theatre of Blood was rather exceptional in that it was filmed entirely on location instead of staging scenes inside a movie studio. Lionheart's fictional hideout, the "Burbage Theatre", was actually the Putney Hippodrome in London, built in 1906, which had been vacant and dilapidated for over a decade before being used in the film. It was later demolished in 1975 to make way for housing units. The Hippodrome was also used in director Hickox's previous film, Sitting Target (1972) with Oliver Reed and Ian McShane.

Lionheart's tomb is an actual monument in Kensal Green Cemetery. It belongs to the Sievier family, and shows the sculpted figures of a seated man, one hand placed on the head a woman kneeling in adoration, while the other holds the Bible, its pages opened to a passage from the Gospel of Luke. This monument was altered for the film by plaster masks of Price and Rigg substituting for the statue's real ones, the Bible became a volume of Shakespeare and there is a suitable engraving at the front with Lionheart's name and dates.

Peregrine Devlin's impressive Thames-side apartment was in reality the penthouse flat at Alembic House (now known as Peninsula Heights) on the Albert Embankment.[5] The property became the London home of novelist and disgraced politician Jeffrey Archer.[6]

Stage adaptation[edit]

The film was adapted for the stage by British company Improbable, with Jim Broadbent playing Edward Lionheart and Rachael Stirling, Diana Rigg's daughter, playing the role her mother essayed, Lionheart's daughter. The play differs from the film in major ways as the critics are from major British newspapers (examples including The Guardian and The Times) and is entirely set within an abandoned theatre. The play remains set in the 1970s rather than updated to contemporary times.[7]

Another change is the removal of most secondary characters including police, as well as reducing the number of deaths. The killings based on Othello and Cymbeline were omitted as they would have to take place outside the theatre and rely heavily on secondary characters, such as the critics' wives. The name of Lionheart's daughter is changed from "Edwina" to "Miranda" to enhance the Shakespearean influence. This adaptation ran in London at the National Theatre between May and September 2005 and received mixed reviews.

Price and Coral Browne[edit]

Vincent Price was introduced to his future wife Coral Browne by Diana Rigg during the making of the film. Browne recalled in a television documentary Caviar To The General in 1990, that she had not wanted to make "one of those scary Vincent Price movies" but she was persuaded to take the part of Chloe Moon by her friends Robert Morley and Michael Hordern, acknowledging that the film thus had a very strong cast. Rigg introduced the couple, ignorant of the fact that Price was married.[8]


  1. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 60
  2. ^ Gary J. Svehla & Susan Svehla, Vincent Price Midnight Marquee Actors Series, ISBN 1-887664-21-1, page 267
  3. ^ "Theater Of Blood". Eccentric Cinema. Retrieved 2014-02-11. 
  4. ^ "Theatre of Blood". Retrieved 2014-02-11. 
  5. ^ James, Simon (2007). London Film Location Guide. Chrysalis Books. p. 146. 
  6. ^ Denyer, Lucy (2006-12-17). "Good day at the office". The Sunday Times (Times Newspapers). Retrieved 2008-11-17. 
  7. ^ "Show Detail". Improbable. Retrieved 2015-02-18. 
  8. ^ Coral Browne: 'This Effing Lady', by Rose Collis, Oberon Books, ISBN 978-1-84002-764-8

External links[edit]